In his program, Emmanuel Macron offers “an investment to build European metaverses and offer experiences in virtual reality”. By Pascal de Lima, economist
The concept of Metaverse is important for understanding economic and digital transformation. When you play sports in a club, when you go shopping, when you meet, when you go to a museum or when you go shopping, and even when you go to the cinema or conduct a scientific experiment in Antarctica, there is a physical displacement, a concrete social action. The Metaverse performs the same usage, except you sit in an armchair with a virtual headset. You play sports with a game, PS4 for example, you do your shopping in a 360° showroom, you visit a virtual museum and you go shopping in 360° in full virtuality. You can now settle in your cinema room, ie at home with, why not, a 3D vision.
In this Metaverse there are basically two options: (1) An open, communal, democratic Metaverse. You and I can develop a Metaverse universe through the addition of technological bricks: artificial intelligence that will help you orientate, electronic money to pay (cryptoassets including tokens, these famous payment tokens). We could add other tools that participate in this world: home video conferencing, 3D models, 3D glasses, social networks to communicate and meet, collaboration platforms and blockchain. As for the absolutely essential 3D printers in the system with the AI, they would make it possible to build just about anything you want when surfing from home. The second option is the closed Metaverse. It is only allowed for certain actors in the public or private sector (defence, for example, children’s games, etc.). To build this private virtual world some players already exist like Epic Games, Roblox, but they are Americans. Adding technology bricks will allow them to adapt to a more open system in tomorrow’s world.
Emmanuel Macron proposes a European Metaverse that can compete with the Americans and the Chinese who are already ahead of us.
Marc Zukenberg and Facebook have also announced multi-billion dollar investments in the Metaverse. Europe is already lagging behind in artificial intelligence, 5G and now the Metaverse.
On the Metaverse itself, since the Chinese Tik-Tok seems to be partially taking over the American Facebook, there is the idea that a Chinese Metaverse could overtake that of the Americans. It is within this framework that Emmanuel Macron proposes to support the development of certain important technological building blocks, such as 3D engines. The idea would be to create European competitors for Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and for Unity and its eponymous engine, to name two examples.
Emmanuel Macron’s idea may seem appealing at first glance†
This European Metaverse would allow not only to catch up, but also significant economic benefits: it would facilitate technological partnerships in Europe by enabling the formation of monopolies. All European tech players would come together around a common project, whether the system is open or closed. Above all, the Metaverse is a powerful world for valuing anything other than money, especially by addressing technological environmental and social issues, i.e. the ESG criteria of the Metaverse member companies. To the extent that these companies remain very real, but equipped with a Metaverized world in virtualized 360° format, compliance with a whole range of regulations, especially through AI, will be made easier. Collaborative tools will enhance the sharing of collective values. Innovation will become the engine, the economy will approach that of the studios, as in the cinema, and so we can finally bet half a billion in Europe on an industrial Metaverse: European Industry 4.0.
But beware, Emmanuel Macron seems to be riding a wave.
This European Metaverse project faces many pitfalls: let’s move on to the mimicry of American society, which is far from exemplary (the development of a dangerous visionary world and cybercrime), isolating Europe in this area seems quite realistic, such as the efforts of China or Russia to isolate their citizens from the rest of the internet. Why not talk about tomorrow’s world through inclusive and social projects coordinated at European level as in the days of Airbus? If we absolutely had to talk about the world of tomorrow, we should first have mastered what is happening today. And today the challenge of the economy is purchasing power and employment. What does a European Metaverse do in these areas, without vision and perspectives on what will become of the labor market with people locked up at home? How will they be rewarded? Via tokens? Multidimensional property rights? For which professions? What are the professions that will disappear, that will appear with the Metaverse? Who will monopolize the rent?
If we want a project as global as a European Metaverse, we must necessarily involve the labor market and provide a vision, since, moreover, employment and purchasing power are the two most important issues for the French. It will also be necessary to show that Europeans will be united. However, nothing is less certain, as we have now understood with the example of Covid and the war in Ukraine.
In conclusion, this proposal seems opportunistic: we must illustrate how the Metaverse could serve a European project by linking it to the engine of innovation, AI and data, the oil of knowledge, without forgetting the social and environmental purpose, and above all the purchasing power and the job. Emmanuel Macron proposes therefore a European Metaverse, but without really associating it with a vision of the world of work of tomorrow, with its new professions and within the framework of a project that involves society as a whole in an inclusive way without separating it again from the French (to satisfy Bpi France and French Tech in Las Vegas). It seems that Emmanuel Macron’s proposal is clearly below the challenges of tomorrow’s world, because it does not fit into an economic and technological cycle of supply with a purchasing power crisis based on social demands.
Furthermore, this project does not warn of the risks of failure leading the company to a dead end and there are many because the Metaverse is not only a representation of augmented reality, but also out of step with reality: the virtual disappearance from the real labor market, the end of work in the world of avatars and at home. And what about the social cohesion risks of such a project: a total disconnection from reality, a man ultra-connected but disconnected from reality, in a society where the phantasmagoric ultra-moralization of society is behind her screens and transhumanism of environment, where the individual warnings arrive at the house as capitalism settles in the families. The management of avatars and society of telework (and especially tele-leisure) and the artificial intelligences that think instead of people will create an unrealistic world of permanent warnings and dehumanization of civil society. It would therefore first be necessary to provide accurate answers to these questions in order to know whether the game is worth the candle.